Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mealybugs win, agave loses

Two years ago, I posted this photo of my Agave parryi var. truncata:


It showed the beginnings of what would turn into a particularly insidious infestation of mealybugs, the bane of my existence as a gardener. It also marked the start of a multi-year war against these little đź’©đź’©đź’©.

Fast forward to August 2018:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Solana Succulents: my favorite kind of nursery

There's no doubt about it: Large nurseries that grow their own material, like Rancho Soledad Nursery in northern San Diego County, are exciting to visit. But what makes my plant-loving heart beat even faster are small independent nurseries—often mom-and-pop (or mom or pop) businesses operating out their own backyard or a tiny space in a not-so-flashy part of town and carrying an eclectic inventory of plants that combines the fairly common with the fairly rare. Solana Succulents in the northern San Diego County town of Solana Beach is one of these special nurseries, with one exception: Its location right on Highway 101 just a few blocks from the beach, is definitely not out of the way.

In fact, the sign is easy to spot:

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Important information for Succulents and More email subscribers

If you've subscribed to receive email notifications when new posts are added to Succulents and More but haven't been receiving them lately, I apologize. Because of the General Data Protection Regulation that recently went into effect in the European Union, all subscribers need to re-confirm their subscription before email notifications can be resumed.

Fortunately, this is very easy to do:

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sip and shop at the Succulent Café

At the end of March, I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in San Diego County to attend the 2018 Super Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals. Since I'm never one to take it slow when I'm on a trip, I also squeezed in a visit to a drive-through nursery and to Rancho Soledad Nursery, a world-class destination of its own.

On my way back to the airport I stopped by the Succulent Café in the seaside community of Carlsbad. For years I'd been hearing what a special place the original Succulent Café in Oceanside was. Unfortunately, it's now closed. But the good news is that the new Succulent Café in Carlsbad Village, just a few block from the beach, is much larger than the old space had been.

As its name suggests, the Succulent CafĂ© serves a full range of hot and cold coffee and tea drinks, baked goods, as well as breakfast dishes, sandwiches and salads. All of this is par for the course for a cafĂ©. What makes this spot so unique, though, is that you sip your lavender mocha or nosh on your orange cranberry scone surrounded by succulent displays, dish gardens, ceramics, cards, and gift items made by local artists—and of course thousands of succulents for sale. Even if you aren't the most creative type, like myself, you'll find plenty of inspiration wherever you look, and you can then pick out the right plants, container and accessories to bring your idea to life.

The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" seems to have been coined specifically for a place like the Succulent Café. So I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

More succulent Shangri-La: Rancho Soledad Nursery (part 2)

This is part 2 of my trip report about Rancho Soledad Nursery in San Diego County. If you missed part 1, click here.

Rancho Soledad may be open to the public, but it's very much a working nursery. There were signs of it everywhere even though we didn't see many employees. Plants, usually larger specimens, were in the process of being hauled from one point to another, like Aloidendron ramosissimum in this photo:

Aloidendron ramosissimum

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Succulent Shangri-La: Rancho Soledad Nursery (part 1)

When I was in San Diego in March, I finally got the chance to visit a place I had always pictured as the nursery equivalent of Shangri-La: Rancho Soledad Nursery. Founded by legendary plantsman Jerry Hunter in 1954, Rancho Soledad has been a pioneering force in the California nursery industry for decades. Rancho Soledad was one of the first nurseries in the world to establish its own in-house tissue culture lab to produce landscape-worthy plants on a large scale. Popular agave hybrids like 'Blue Glow' and 'Blue Flame' are just two of the many introductions to come out of Rancho Soledad.

Much of Rancho Soledad's groundbreaking work in the last 20 years was done by Kelly Griffin, who is now succulent plant development manager at Altman Plants, the largest grower of succulents in the U.S. Even though Griffin is no longer with Rancho Soledad, their hybridizing program is continuing strong, thanks in no small measure to curator Jeremy Spath. With his far-ranging knowledge and practical experience, Spath is considered a leading expert on agaves. Based on the glimpses I got on my visit, I have no doubt that Rancho Soledad will continue to bring us exciting new agaves in the years to come.

Rancho Soledad Nursery is located in northern San Diego County outside the small town of Rancho Santa Fe, about 10 miles inland from the coast. The sprawling 25-acre nursery is at the end of Aliso Canyon Road in a rural area increasingly dominated by multi-million-dollar houses on large lots. Hey, for a cool $18 million you can buy this 12,400 sq.ft. house with 7 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms five miles away; the estimated mortgage is only $73,000 a month! I bet this part of San Diego County looked very different when Jerry Hunter bought the property in 1960.

I visited Rancho Soledad on a Saturday morning in late March accompanied by fellow succulent fanatics Deana and Sarah from Santa Barbara. I don't think the nursery gets a lot of casual walk-in traffic, considering where it's located; most customers seem to be landscaping professionals who buy plants for their own clients. We parked at the public sales area near the main entrance (here's a map for orientation). In the panorama below, you see the landscape design and consulting office straight ahead:

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Bodacious bromeliads at Sacramento Bromeliad Society show

Yesterday I went to the 2018 Show and Sale of the Sacramento Bromeliad and Carnivorous Plant Society. As I had hoped, it was a great opportunity to see plants I only know from books and the web. I'm a rank novice when it comes to bromeliads (especially cultivation) but I'm fascinated by the wide range of forms and colors. And I came home with a box full of treasures—it's hard to resist a good sale with prices that can't be beat.

Here are some of the plants that caught my eye in the show. They're in no particular order, just like the show itself didn't seem to be in any particular order. It's easy to see why many succulent fanatics are into bromeliads as well.

Cryptanthus 'Thriller'

Friday, July 27, 2018

Random things in the garden that make me happy

All too often I'm focused on the areas that still need to be improved or redone. This mindset isn't bad in and of itself, but it makes me lose sight of the many things that are done—and, more importantly, that I'm happy with. Here are some of them.

It can be as simple as a concrete face on the backyard fence:

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Agaves, aloes, and abutilons

It seems like everything I have doing in the garden lately has been haphazard: a little bit here, a little bit there. I know that ultimately things will come together, but right now it feels like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are scattered all over.

The same holds true for recent plant purchases. Nothing focused, just whatever catches my eye, happens to come to my attention, or simply lands in my lap.

This post is about three genera beginning with the letter a that been front and center in the last month. Two are not surprising—agaves and aloes—but the third one is: abutilons, or flowering maples. Read on to find out more.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Rating ornamental plants as part of UC Davis irrigation trial

Last week I did something really interesting: I helped rate the appearance of landscape plants that are currently part of an irrigation trial at the University of California Davis. The objective is to determine how ornamental plants fare when they receive different amounts of water and are irrigated increasingly less frequently. The ultimate goal is to find the sweet spot where a plant still looks good with as little irrigation as possible. This is of enormous importance for gardeners in the West and Southwest—anyplace where water is scarce and precious.

On the UC Landscape Plant Irrigation Trial website, the project is described like this:
UC Davis horticulturists are evaluating landscape plants with the potential to be good performers in low-water use gardens. [...] the plants are exciting new cultivars provided by growers and breeders who want to evaluate their new plant varieties for low-water use in hot California gardens. The results of these trials are providing growers and retailers the information they need to successfully distribute and market these plants to the public.
This is how the project works:
After being grown for a full year on a regular watering regime [roughly weekly during the summer with 8.3 gallons applied during each event] to establish deep, healthy roots, plants are irrigated through the second growing season with one of three different irrigation frequencies that correspond to the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS IV) categories of Low, Moderate, and High.  (These categories are based on percentages of reference evapotranspiration with local weather station data used to estimate these percentages.)
Height and width are measured monthly to calculate a growth index for each species at each irrigation level. Overall appearance, flowering time and duration, and pest or disease problems are rated monthly to provide a comprehensive assessment of performance, allowing us to make irrigation recommendations for these plants. This data allows growers to provide good information in marketing their product to the consumer.
In addition to the monthly appearance evaluations mentioned above, larger-scale evaluations are performed in the spring, summer and fall where local horticulturists, landscaping and nursery professionals, master gardeners, and garden communicators are invited to walk the growing grounds and rate the plants growing under the different irrigation schemes. This was the first time I participated in one of these Open House Ratings Events, and I can't wait to do it again in the fall.

The plants are growing in random order in rows like these: